The Modernist Renaissance of the 20th Century
Why define the 20th Century as a Renaissance?
First we have to look at the question What is a Renaissance?
Renaissances occur so infrequently that nobody has ever bothered to define one properly. So if you're invited to one, don't be lazy and make sure to get yourself there, especially if you missed the last one. Until now there has only really been one indisputable Renaissance in human history, which was centered in Italy in c1500.
There is some confusion regarding the specific dates but I'm not getting into resolving that right now. I'm busy explaining the new Modernist Renaissance of the 20th Century. I have to explain it here because nobody has ever defined the development of Modernism as a Renaissance before, even though it clearly has been one, and a far more pervasive and important one than the Italian Renaissance was.
So you'd best pay attention.
So, how do we define a renaissance?
Well, the most fundamentally necessary characteristic of a renaissance is that the people who come after it are a different kind of people than the people who preceded it. So that the population at large has been altered by the cultural shifts of the passing renaissance.
How must they be different?
They must be transformed in sensibility. This includes morality, ideals, values. They must be different in their perception of the world. In their awareness of the human condition and in their consciousness of the world.
This is an extremely high criteria, especially when it is measured across the entire population of a culture. It's not at all certain that even the Italian Renaissance can fully meet these criteria.
Can we say that the 20th Century Modernist Renaissance is able to meet these criteria?
I'd say most certainly we can.
The sensibility and behaviors which were considered radically bohemian and avant-garde in 1900 have become fully mainstream values by 2000.
I assume I don't need to prove that no-one faints upon seeing a shocking painting nowadays. Or a man with hair down to his collar etc etc. Non virgins are no longer unmarriageable either. Thank God!
And of course general sensibilities have changed in far more profound ways than these mere comic examples.
Did the Renaissance of c1500 change people as irrevocably as the Renaissance of the 20th Century?
Not really, even though the Enlightenment eventually emerged a hundred years later, and people did change somewhat, the general population were not that different in the late 1800s than they had been in the late 1600s.
This is something that cannot be said for the 20th Century. Even in 1913 the writer Charles Peguy made the famous observation that in the last 30 years people had changed more than they had since the time of Christ.
And they have change a great deal further since 1913. I know I have.
This gives us a method of comparing the relative importance of different Renaissances to mankind.
When we examine the changes in sensibility wrought by the 20th Century Renaissance compared to those of the 16th Century Renaissance, the 20th Century Modernist Renaissance shows itself to be a substantially more major Renaissance. The changes induced in people are simply undeniably larger.
Why is it important to recognize that mankind is now late in an evolving period of renaissance?
Well, cultural change in the widest sense is always a flowing dynamic, and it is always nice to understand what is happening in the world, to understand the direction of this flowing dynamic. Especially while you are still living in it, that's when the understanding is the most valuable.
Major renaissances do not happen often, in fact the move to Modernism we have witnessed over the last century is not only the largest cultural shift in the history of mankind, it is an utterly unique event.
Mankind can only move into Modernism once in its history. That is happening now and we are very privileged to witness it. The future will envy us. For a very long time to come the future will not be more different from our present, than our present is from our recent past. We have witnessed the watershed century of mankind and it was a Modernist Renaissance. How lucky can we get!
The future will change and evolve of course, but it will not transform us more than this recent 20th Century Renaissance has.
Once the contemporary Biotech aspects of the Modernist Renaissance are complete, in 50 or so years, it may be another millennium before mankind sees a cultural shift comparable to the one we have recently experienced. If mankind sees it at all.
What has this change in sensibility been?
This is a very involved question and doubtless there are already people writing dull books about it.
In time there will be a substantial body of research on the subject. So I'm not going to undertake the classification of it all in a little web article. I've already written a 12 volume fictional portrait of the process, and really, I'm exhausted. It was a lot of typing. So go read 20th Century Bohemians and Angels if you need a complete answer. But hurry, it's really important!
Let me just say this though; you are not the same type of person as your great grandmother was, and there are reasons for that.
In fact you are very close in sensibility to the artists and bohemians of 1900 and after, the very people who powered the 20th Century Modernist Renaissance with their vision, and who shocked your great grandmother into spluttering outrage.
This is why 20th Century Bohemians and Angels is about them, and the reasons and ways in which they changed the world.
They set out to deliberately re-create the world anew and they succeeded. A great evolving army of artists beginning roughly with the Impressionists and democratizing gradually into the rock musicians. An evolving movement from avant-garde art to popular art, which affected the sensibility of everyone alive in Western culture.
This was a democratization of sensibility and art/culture, growing and spreading until it finally emerges now that it is great-grandma who looks weird and had weird unconventional ideas, and not the bohemians and artists who shocked her. The average person has now accepted the societal vision of these Modernist bohemians and artists, and the internet proves it to us all daily.
What a fabulous process! What geniuses those artists were to drive the momentum of sensibility and transform us all! Did the world ever need that!
The 20th Century Modernist Renaissance made our world and it will be a long long time before it is remade anew once more.
Our world has been defined and created by Modernism. A modernism catalyzed by artists and bohemians and not by your great-grandma, unless she was a wild girl who loved to dance with angels. In which case you should thank and adore her.
And in case you are wondering, Postmodernism is really only Modernism in a party dress and a clown's nose.
The reason for this is that the serious work of Modern Art and Literature has been successfully completed. Sensibility has been forced into evolving, art has been democratized.
As a result there is nothing more to do except celebrate our triumph. And we deserve a fine celebration.
And that's Postmodernism.